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California fire victims plan to rebuild for the second time, but this time they’re going underground

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by Daily Commercial News

It will take more than two destroyed homes to get Skip and Linda Miller off the mountaintop property where they’ve lived for 30 years.

However, this time they’re going underground

CUYAMACA, Calif.

It will take more than two destroyed homes to get Skip and Linda Miller off the mountaintop property where they’ve lived for 30 years.

The Millers lost their house to a wildfire in 2003, then rebuilt it, only to watch the replacement house burn to the ground last October in another wildfire.

They were the only family in San Diego to lose a house twice on the same spot. Now they plan to build there a third time — only the house will be mostly underground this time.

“That was my house, but this is my home,” Skip Miller said, referring to the barren lot, where only two pine trees, an old Volkswagen Beetle and a ceramic garden frog survived last year’s flames.

The fires last fall scorched a large section of land from the Mexican border to the suburbs north of Los Angeles, drawing criticism from fire chiefs and some lawmakers.

They blasted developers for building in brush-filled canyons. The flames destroyed nearly 2,200 homes, killed 10 people and forced 500,000 residents to evacuate.

The Millers’ effort to build underground shows how far people will go to continue living in one of the country’s most scenic areas, despite the fire risk.

The Millers bought their land in the Cleveland National Forest in 1978 after giving up their fantasy of living on an island beach.

After selling their house in suburban San Diego, they spent three years living on the site in a 10-metre camper with their four children. Skip Miller built the home’s wooden geodesic dome himself.

After the 2003 fire, Miller took early retirement from his job as a vocational teacher to supervise construction of a replacement home, which had sealed eaves, double-paned windows and fire-resistant siding.

At the time, he thought the property would be made safe by new building codes and requirements on brush clearance adopted after the blaze.

For the third house, Miller wants to move the slab several metres back into a small natural hill to shield the windward side of the building from the flaming debris that ignited the second house.

Windows facing west and north will be reinforced with steel frames that are less susceptible to warping in heat, and the interior will be made from fire-resistant materials such as concrete and stone instead of wood.

Associated Press

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